I first told people how I truly felt about my parents in fifth grade. My friends and I sat at the same table in class throughout the year, and we always had something to talk about while working. One day everyone was talking about how they and interacted with their parents. They would go to fun places, like the beach, Mammoth Mountain or Knott's Berry Farm. They spoke of the love they had for their mother and father, how they couldn't live without them. The conversation was great until I spoke up about my parents.

"I'm scared of my parents."

That was probably one of the most puzzling things they had ever heard. I expected them to totally understand why I was scared of them. I even said it nonchalantly, like it was nothing out of the ordinary.

"Why?" they asked, giggling at me.

All I could say was that my parents were super strict. My friends must have thought I was absolutely insane.

Scared of your own parents?! Hello, they're your parents! Sure, they are strict, but they can't be the only ones! You're not supposed to be scared of them, even if they're strict!

Later on in life, I discovered the difference between being strict and abusive. Unfortunately, my parents were the latter and it was extremely difficult not having the proper parent-and-child connection with them that I always yearned for.

I went through 20-something years of life thinking my parents were simply more strict than most others. I thought that it was normal for me to not be able to express myself and be treated and beaten like an animal. If I accidentally spilled water on the kitchen floor, my dad would push me around or kick me in the back and legs. My mom would slap me across the face, beat me with a wooden spoon, or pinch me until I was bruised if my apology wasn't genuine to her. I suffered the same physical consequences for laughing “too much,” talking before being spoken to, leaving my bedroom without permission, and spending more than 15 minutes on homework, just to name a few.

Even after the physical abuse stopped when I was 11 years old, my parents still abused me verbally and emotionally, and I thought this was "normal.” When I would hear of child abuse on the news, my automatic reaction would be sadness and anger. Who would do such a thing to their child? What is wrong with them? But when it came to my situation, I actually believed I was doing something to deserve this. Otherwise, why would they treat me like that?

There were always feelings of guilt inside me. It never occurred to me that what I was going through at "home" was abuse, until my second year of college.

Everything I did was wrong. If I did do something right, it was not good enough to my parents, especially my mother. I was made to feel like a failure in life, like I was the problem. Much of my childhood was spent in an environment filled with pain, abuse and negativity, and that was all I knew.

Many of the friends I made in high school were gang members or gang affiliated. After a few years of hanging out almost every week, I became familiar with all the things a gang member in Anaheim would know. I knew all the gangs in the city — as well as their colors, gang signs, the streets and neighborhoods they were located at. I knew a lot of people who were in jail for attempted murder or because they actually did kill somebody.

My boyfriend at the time was a gang member as well. When we became a couple in May 2009, I had no idea; he was just someone I saw around school throughout the years. I didn't know until a few weeks into our relationship that both he and his family belonged to the Anaheim Travelers City Gang, but that didn't stop me from being with him. I accepted him for who he was and took pride in doing so.

We went on dates to the movies and restaurants, and he gave me gifts like little teddy bears, perfume and jewelry. He introduced me to his friends and family. This was my first serious relationship and things started off well, or so it seemed.

After just two weeks, he was asking multiple times a day when we were going to have sex. I was a virgin at the time, which was a major turn-on for him. He was excited about “feeling a tight vagina,” and said he would feel honored taking my virginity. He claimed to be okay with waiting until I was ready, but still often asked, “So when do you think you’ll be ready? I can’t wait another week or two, babe, that’s too long.”

"It was one of the most awkward moments in my life, but I gave in so he wouldn’t get more upset than he already was."

I felt uncomfortable, pushed beyond my limits. The first time we had sex was a month into our relationship. I wasn’t ready. I agreed to it to make him shut up. It was one of the most awkward moments in my life, but I gave in so he wouldn’t get more upset than he already was. As a virgin, I worried about my own sexual performance.

Satisfying his sexual needs was all I was good for. He saw giving hugs, having long conversations, playing sports, and just about anything not sex-related as “gay” and “stupid.” He had high expectations set for me and I always failed to reach them. Even when I was in the mood for sex, I still did a horrible job at pleasuring him.

“Man, you suck at sex.”

“I don’t feel shit when you’re sucking on me. You need to take some lessons on that.”

“I could just go find some other girl who will do better than you. You don’t do anything good, man!”

Although there were times the sex was consensual, most of the time he had to force me down on his bedroom floor. If I tried fighting my way out of his grasp before he could push me to the floor, he would grab me and pin me to the wall with his body, hand around my neck.

“You’re gonna be glad you got some [sex] today. You won’t ever meet anyone like me, so you should be grateful I do this to you, babe,” he always said.

Intercourse was painful and it sometimes got bloody. He liked that. If I protested for him to stop, he kept going anyway, saying, “Come on, you know you like being raped. You don’t have to pretend, I know you like it.”

I didn’t like it. I hated it, and he hated me for hating “rough sex.” He believed that if he kept it up, I would eventually “learn to enjoy getting raped.” When I’d try pushing him off, he’d push me back down, choking me and punching me on the side of my face.

“What the fuck are you doing! I’m trying to make love to you, babe. Isn’t that what you want?” he asked. “Man, you’re no fun!”

He became more angry and violent with me as months passed. The more I tried fighting back, the more he threatened to kill me. And if I ever broke up with him, he said, he would kill me too.

During the seven months we were together, I had two pregnancy scares, both following nonconsensual sex. Although he always used condoms, there were occasions where they broke from rough penetration. My last scare came in early October 2009, just two months before I left him. I hadn’t had my period since late August, and I refused to get a pregnancy test because I was scared to see the results. I was terrified. I tried to plan out how I would tell my parents if I was pregnant. I knew they would kick me out of the house, and as much as I couldn’t stand them, I couldn’t afford to live on my own just yet. As for my boyfriend, he said if I was pregnant, he would kill the baby and me.

Fortunately, the pregnancy test I finally took came out negative. In the first week of December, my period arrived, but it was a lot heavier than usual, with many clots. I usually handled the pain of menstrual cramps just fine, but it was almost unbearable this time. I also felt dizzy and nauseated, something I never experienced with past menstrual cycles.

I never considered miscarriage as a possible cause of these strange events, but when I sometimes look back, I wonder if that’s what happened. In the end, all that mattered was that I wasn’t going to have a baby with a guy I felt ashamed to call my “boyfriend.”

I left him for good on Christmas Eve that year. I told him through MySpace that we were over. It was the safest way to go about it to avoid his violent ways. I didn’t care if I ruined his Christmas and New Year; all the things he did to me caused far more damage than breaking up with him ever will. I was often confused during this relationship, if you want to call it a relationship, that is; it felt more like a slow death for me than anything.

Shortly after the breakup, I often had vivid nightmares where I’d relive the sexual abuse. Today I still experience them at least once every two months.

"But I was trying to win a fight that was not worth getting into in the first place, and this fight almost completely destroyed me."

Just as I had dealt with my parents' abuse, I believed I did something to deserve all the pain from my boyfriend. It puzzled me that someone else I trusted and felt comfortable with, treated me the way he did, so I blamed myself. I can’t say that I didn’t know what to do, because I did. I needed to leave him. But, I thought I would be considered a strong person to just "take it”–like I had with my parents. To take the pain like it had no effect on me, to make him see he wasn't as strong or powerful as he may have thought he was; I was tired of being seen as weak. But I was trying to win a fight that was not worth getting into in the first place, and this fight almost completely destroyed me.

It’s strange that I was romantically involved with someone who treated me the same way my parents did. One would think I’d immediately stay away from someone who displayed the same aggressive behavior as my parents, but a negative environment was all I knew.

After roughly 20 years of abuse, living in a state of fear became almost second nature for me. I’ve struggled with trying to be perfect all the time, mentally beating myself up for making even the smallest mistakes, just as my parents and ex-boyfriend had done to me. It’s hard for me to trust people. And I’m especially terrified of hurting those I care about most, always keeping a close eye on everything I do and say.

Fortunately, I haven’t experienced any more traumatic event since then. In fact, my life started to get better as of early 2010. I was no longer in an abusive relationship. I stopped affiliating myself with gang members all together. I changed my major from graphic design to journalism and I graduated college with a B.A. in Communications in December 2013, along-awaited milestone.

As a whole, plenty of good things have happened throughout the past three years, but it's a bit of a challenge for me to be happy at times. It's a foreign feeling. Sometimes, when I'm in a good mood, there is a voice in the back of my mind telling me it isn’t right for me to be happy.

Instead of dwelling on my past and how things came to be, I've taken small steps towards improvement, which have been anything but small. I am talking more, smiling more, and laughing more. By allowing myself to no longer be a prisoner of my past, it has been incredibly rewarding.

Majority of the effort has been mine, but I didn't get to this point in my life all on my own. I met someone special who continues to show me what a healthy relationship is, and I couldn't be more grateful. From the first day we met in 2010, he has always been a genuine person.

Through the many ups and downs we've had during the past four years, he has taught me the importance of being myself, how to be affectionate, how fear doesn't get me anywhere, and best of all, what it's like to be treated with care, love and respect.

Whenever I feel down on myself, I reflect on the long journey I’ve been on since 2010. I especially keep in mind what I aim to accomplish, and that is to be at peace with myself. I have found the existence of a positive state of mind that was once lost.

So as amazing as it would be for this story to end with me living happily ever after, I’m still a work in progress; it may not be a cliché happy ending, but it is my happy ending.